Who Owns This Half-Million Dollar Banksy Mural?

A public piece of art, painted on a private wall, by an pseudonymous artist. Who owns the work?

This mural, called “Slave Labour,” was cut from the wall and sent to an auction house in Miami. Photo: DeptfordJon

Over the weekend, a mural thought to be painted by famed street artist Banksywho Smithsonian Magazine profiled recently—was set to go up for auction, expected to fetch a price between $500,000 and $700,000. The mural, says Reuters “was painted on a building occupied by Poundland Stores, a British retailer that sells various items for only a pound,” in a North London neighborhood.

The work, titled “Banksy: Slave Labour,” shows a young boy kneeling at a sewing machine with Union Jack bunting.

The mural appeared in 2012 during Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee celebrating her 60th year on the throne. The Poundland chain was a focal point of controversy in 2010 because of allegations it sold goods made by Indian children as young as 7.

Though Saturday’s auction was to include two Banksy pieces, both were pulled at the last minute amidst public controversy. The whole spectacle, says PetaPixel, raises interesting questions over the ownership of public art.

The auction house, reports the BBC, “says that it was acquired legally, and it will be sold legally.” Frederic Thut, the owner of the auction house, told the BBC that “the work was painted on the private wall, and the owner of a private wall can do whatever he wants with his own wall.”


If the Banksy sale does go through and end up fetching a sizable figure, we may soon find many other examples of famous street art installations being ripped out of their original “canvases” and sold to private art collectors.

In this instance, however, says the Associated Press, the local council “will now try to bring the artwork back to the community.”

More from Smithsonian.com:

The Story Behind Banksy

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